How utilities can help customers, communities cope with COVID-19
On behalf of the NW Energy Coalition staff and board, we hope you are staying safe in the midst of the national public health emergency around coronavirus (COVID-19). In addition to the physical well-being concerns that COVID-19 is raising, we are also aware of the enormous economic effects that this crisis will have on many of those in our communities. There are many resources emerging that detail how this crisis will exacerbate already strong inequities in our economic system and place increasing burdens on those who can least afford them.
One key part of the NW Energy Coalition’s mission is to promote clean, affordable, and equitable energy policy. Thus, one key piece we are tracking in this crisis is how our energy utilities are responding to the needs of their customers. This public health crisis is already resulting in the widespread loss of wages and jobs — disproportionately affecting lower income households, which will impact their ability to pay energy bills and to heat and power their homes.
Around the Northwest, public utility commissions and individual utilities are proactively responding to the crisis in a number of ways, including:
- Declaring temporary moratoriums on utility disconnections
- Suspending interest accrual on overdue balances and waiving late fees
- Leveraging emergency energy assistance dollars from state and/or utility sources
- Creating simplified or remote eligibility requirements for qualifying for discount programs
In addition to those specific actions, it is critically important that utilities find ways to communicate these options to customers and proactively reach out in as many ways possible to reach their customers — through press releases, social media, public announcements, websites, translated material, etc. to let their customers know the ways in which the utility can support them. Some websites that provide examples of this proactive messaging can be found here and here.
Going forward, it is likely that we will need increased amounts of emergency energy assistance to households across the Northwest. The Coalition will partner with groups at a national, regional, and statewide level to advocate for the needed funds.
While tracking what is happening with energy utilities in the Northwest, we created a document with information on those electric and natural gas utilities in the region that have taken steps to address the crisis with their customers. We have also noted regulatory developments/meetings that are scheduled in this document. This is an emergent situation and we recognize that much will change over the coming weeks and months, but we will endeavor to update this document with more information as it is available. If you have more updated information on any utility that you work with, please reach out to Wendy Gerlitz, firstname.lastname@example.org or Amy Wheeless, email@example.com.
NW Energy Coalition staff